New law enforcement tool finds sex offenders at local malls

For years, online registries have allowed people to search for sex offenders near their home, but now the Marion County Sheriff’s Department is using new technology to see where sex and other violent offenders go when they’re not at home.

A $500,000 federal grant has enabled the sheriff’s department to equip four vehicles with highly sensitive cameras that capture and process license plate information. The grant also funds overtime needed to patrol high traffic areas like schools, parks and malls.

“Whenever we pass by a vehicle it will beep to me,” said CPL Brad Allen, pointing to the computer in his Marion County Sheriff’s Department cruiser. “That means that it’s been read.”

Allen showed Fox59 how the cameras work even while driving at high speeds. They also run license plate information through law enforcement databases in real time, checking for expired licenses plates, outstanding warrants and registered sex offenders.

“It’s helped out tremendously,” Allen said.

“One plate reader device has the capability of reading up to 100 license plates per minute,” said Captain Michael Hubbs with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. “So I don’t know if you could have enough man power to ever do that.”

During a special holiday shopping enforcement in December, deputies patrolling mall areas used the cameras to find cars belonging to 73 registered six offenders along with 42 people wanted on warrants associated with vehicles. The new technology also led directly to one felony arrest for a sex offender violation.

Hubbs said that the discrepancy between sex offenders and arrests is because some may not be barred from malls. Still, he said the technology allows law enforcement to keep tabs on them and that even one arrest is significant.

“I’d say absolutely it’s worth it because the arrest speaks for itself,” said Captain Hubbs. “Who knows what that person could have been up to?”

For Corporal Allen, it’s helping him keep better tabs on the 1,500 registered sex offenders in Marion County every single day.

“I check all the schools to make sure that there’s no sex offenders there,” Allen said.

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